The Swedish digital book and audiobook platform Storytel continues to be at the forefront of aggressive international acquisitions and expansion. The company added another 98,600 subscribers to its streaming audiobook service in the first quarter of 2021, bringing the total to 1,540,600 paying subscribers. Revenue was 517 million Swedish Krona ($60 million) for the quarter, and total revenue for 2020 hit nearly 1.9 billion Krona ($222 million).
The company now operates in more than 20 markets, having most recently launched in Belgium, Israel, and Thailand. Approximately two thirds—or nearly one million—of Storytel's subscribers are in the Nordic region, where growth has been steady, if incremental. Elsewhere in Asia, Europe and Latin America, the number of subscribers more than doubled in 2020, jumping to 583,100—a 58% increase over 2019.
The company fuels expansion through the acquisition of new businesses. As detailed in its 2020 annual report, Storytel absorbed Arabic audiobook company Kitab Sawti and Israel's audiobook producer iCast last year. Earlier this year, Storytel took over Nordic audiobook production company Earselect AB and acquired Swedish publishing house Lind & Co.
Subscription models are now so entrenched in the Nordic countries that a new company, Sesamy, has popped up promising to end what the company has dubbed the plague of "zombie subscriptions," or subscriptions that go underutilized and are difficult to cancel. Sesamy launched in March and offers watermark-protected, cross-platform-compatible audiobooks and e-books through an à la carte sales model, a throwback to the earliest days of e-book publishing. Sesamy has a strong pedigree in producing and selling digital audio, and is cofounded by Måns Ulvestam, former founder and CEO of Acast, now one the largest podcast hosting companies in the world.
Currently, Sesamy is focused on serving the Swedish market, and it is rolling out titles from nearly 300 publishing houses that have signed on to the service, including Bonnier, Norstedts, and Natur & Kultur. The platform also offers a limited selection of titles in English, including books from the public domain as well as from the publisher Nicotext. The company is also offering original content, starting with books by author Micael Dahlen, professor at the Stockholm School of Economics, which will be available to purchase as podcasts made up of individual chapters in iTunes or in whole as an audiobook.
“The internet was never intended to wall us inside platforms. At Sesamy, we envision a space that does justice to digital content, its diligent creators, and passionate consumers," Ulvestam said in a press release. "At the moment, monopolies are squeezing competition and rights holders. If you look at any content market it has three stakeholders: the platform, the customer, and the rights holders or creators. If the ecosystem is going to be viable in the long run, it has to work for all three. When it comes to books and audiobooks it currently works for platforms, and heavy user consumers, but not for light consumers or those with a variety of interests, and certainly not for creators. Since the more content you have, the smaller your piece of the pie becomes. Therefore the model is doomed to fail like all monopolies unless we change it now.”